Commonwealth Journal

December 28, 2012

Whitson enters ‘not guilty’ plea in U.S. court

Somerset man facing child pornography charges

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

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A Somerset man has pleaded not guilty to child pornography charges in federal court. 
Eric Whitson, 35, appeared in U.S. District Court on Wednesday for an arraignment and pleaded not guilty to sexual exploitation of a minor, possession of materials involving the sexual exploitation of a minor, and receiving or distributing materials involving the sexual exploitation of a minor. 
Whitson was indicted on those charges last week, according to electronically-filed court documents.  
Whitson has been lodged in the Laurel County Correctional Center since his November 21 arrest by Somerset Police Department detectives and agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation at his home on Cooper Drive in Somerset. 
Authorities were carrying out a federal arrest warrant based on evidence of child pornography allegedly found on items taken from Whitson’s home during a search. The arrest came after a two-week joint investigation conducted by SPD and the FBI, which began on November 5 after SPD received a complaint from an alleged adult victim who stated he’d discovered a camera in Whitson’s bathroom.
The complaint led to a search warrant being carried out at Whitson’s residence. 
An affidavit filed by a federal investigator states that the hidden camera allegedly discovered by the victim — and later obtained by authorities — was allegedly placed in a position where a person could be captured from the waist down. The affidavit states that the recording “could also be viewed in real time from Whitson’s bedroom on a monitor.”
Authorities allegedly found a videotaped recording of a 16-year-old male who used the bathroom in Whitson’s home, along with a recording of the victim who made the original complaint.
Along with the recording device, SPD also obtained through a second search warrant computers and multiple forms of digital storage. SPD officers and detectives “searched through hours of VHS tapes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs and found images suspected to be child pornography,” according to Lt. Shannon Smith, with SPD. 
Also allegedly found were several images that showed young males in sexual positions. 
The indictment handed down Thursday charges Whitson with one count of exploitation of a minor, two counts of receiving or distributing material involving the sexual exploitation of a minor, and one count of possession of material involving the sexual exploitation of a minor. 
According to the indictment, if a defendant were to be found guilty of sexual exploitation of a minor, he or she would be sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison. 
If a defendant were to be found guilty of receiving or distributing material involving the sexual exploitation of a minor, he or she would be sentenced to five to 20 years in prison. 
If a defendant were to be found guilty of possession of material involving the sexual exploitation of a minor, he or she would be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. 
A trial date has tentatively been set for March 5, 2013.